France plans CV sting to cut work prejudice

Elisabeth Borne - EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
Elisabeth Borne - EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

The French government will send companies CVs with ethnic-sounding names in “secret” tests to check they are not racially discriminating against job candidates.

The tests are part of a raft of 80 measures presented by Elisabeth Borne, the prime minister, in an ambitious four-year plan to fight “racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination linked to one’s origin” in all sections of society.

Ms Borne did not elaborate on how the government would carry out the tests, which will be delivered to both public and private sector organisations.

Government sources said that part of the tests would consist of sending two identical CVs for the same job offer, with the only difference being the origin of the candidate.

The government will adopt a “graduated response” to any companies guilty of discrimination, with the threat of “naming and shaming” or a new “dissuasive civil fine”.

While France is officially colour blind as statistics on ethnicity, origin and religion are banned, it has faced regular accusations of failing to tackle deeply rooted discrimination, in particular in the jobs market and the police.

At the launch of the plan on Monday, Kaltoum Gachi, a co-president of the anti-racism organisation MRAP, recounted how her brother, Kamel, had failed in his long search for a job with a car maker until he changed his name to Kevin.

France has previously trialled the idea of “anonymous” CVs without personal information like names, addresses and ages, to see whether it reduced employment discrimination.

However, one 2017 study for the French unemployment agency suggested that the move was counterproductive as employers do not in fact discriminate on social or national origins and tend to promote “positive” discrimination, which is not possible if CVs are anonymous.

‘History alerts the present’

Another landmark measure in the anti-discrimination plan is to ensure that “every schoolchild” takes part in at least one trip to a Holocaust or other memorial site exemplifying the horrors that racism can produce.

“History alerts the present,” said Ms Borne, whose Jewish father survived a Nazi concentration camp only to commit suicide when she was 11 years old.

The plan includes training teachers and civil servants about discrimination and toughening the ability to punish those denounced for discrimination.

It will also boost powers to issue arrest warrants to those who use freedom of expression for racist or anti-Semitic ends. Whistleblowers who call out discrimination will be better protected.

Ms Borne said her plan will also offer victims of racism and discrimination the possibility to file complaints outside a police station, and in a “partially anonymous” way.

It will also increase sentences against police officers or anyone tasked with a “public mission” if they are found guilty of discrimination.

France’s police force has come in for sharp criticism in recent years for failing to stamp out brutality and racism in its ranks.

The new plan also pledges to fight discrimination against Roma people.

‘Hate has reinvented itself’

“There will be no impunity for hate,” said Ms Borne, in a speech at the Institute of the Arab World.

She added that tolerance is on the rise, “but hate has reinvented itself”.

“Our first challenge is to look squarely at the reality of racism and anti-Semitism and cede nothing to those who falsify history, who rewrite our past, forgetting or deforming some pages,” she said.

Despite successive government plans, the estimated number of victims who suffer as least one racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic attack in France remains 1.2 million per year, according to the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.